P&Z scene of SSMID debate

Significant vocal opposition


Those in favor and against the proposed establishment of a Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District downtown made their case before the Marshalltown Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night in council chambers.

There was a strong show of force against SSMID, with 12 property owners identifying their opposition in a show of hands to one in support.

Three opponents made oral presentations.

Downtown property owners Jonathan Hull, Tim Hoffman, and David Thompson all cited their opposition for a host of reasons.

Hull and Thompson said they were extremely concerned about the number of not-for-profit organizations, such as Mid Iowa Community Action, and numerous churches who signed the a petition supporting the measure when “they did not have skin in the game.”

The two meant those entities would not be assessed a levy due to their non-profit status.

Thompson also said a second reason he was in opposition is his business, Thompson’s True Value, “which sells goods and services,” would be levied a significantly higher rate than Wells Fargo Bank, “which sells money,” even though both are zoned as commercial properties.

Thompson also said he was also opposed to the rule which let one business with five owners have five votes, while his business had but one vote.

Stepping Stones owner Mindy Van Dyke had previously presented a letter in opposition to Housing & Community Development Director Michelle Spohnheimer

Hull read the letter aloud, which said the extra cost of the levy would be an added burden to her business, and urged the CBD to conduct more effective fundraising.

P&Z Function

The Marshalltown city council, via a state requirement, asked the commission for a review and recommendation after its Aug. 28 meeting when it was presented the SSMID petition.

At that meeting, council voted 5 to 1 with one abstention, to move the SSMID measure to the P&Z for additional review. Voting yes were Councilors MIke Gowdy, Joel Greer, Al Hoop, Bill Martin and Bethany Wirin. Leon Lamer voted no. Dan Kester abstained.

Several councilors voting yes said their votes were in support of all sides being heard, and they were not necessarily specifically supporting the SSMID measure.

P&Z voted 5-0, with two members absent, to have Spohnheimer prepare a report on information and comments made by both sides at the meeting.

Commission chairman Jon Boston explained the commission’s duty was limited, and the city council will have to weigh Spohnheimer’s report and evidence to establish — or decline a SSMID.

“Our function is narrow in scope,” he said. “We are to determine if the proposed establishment of a SSMID is in accordance with other plans promoting growth and economic development. We are not here to judge on the merits of this particular SSMID.”

How it works

SSMID is a self-imposed levy upon commercial and industrial property taxable value within a district. That is, a downtown building owner would agree to have the SSMID levy added on to all other costs doing business, such as property taxes, utility expense and others.

The funds collected from the levy are restricted to improving the business and cultural environment of a specific district.

SSMID’s are divided into five different zones.

Rates are proposed at varying dollar amounts per thousand of taxable value.

It ranges from a Main Street property rate of $3.60 per thousand to residential rate of $1 per thousand to industrial/banks $2.40 per thousand.

One can find it in Chapter 386 of the Iowa Code.

Why needed?

Nathan McCormick, a CBD volunteer who, along with other volunteers had signed up 64 entities — five above the minimum — in support of SSMID told the P&Z Commission the $60,000 to $80,000 funds generated from SSMID, if approved, are needed to for the not-for-profit organization to meet its goals for a more robust downtown.

The organization said SSMID is needed to assist it recruit businesses and continue efforts of downtown beautification among other initiatives.

Should it be approved, CBD would utilize funds to:

• Develop financial support for a marketing strategy for downtown retail businesses.

• Development of online media outlets to better focus on downtown events and businesses.

• Enhanced sidewalk snow removal and trash collection along Main Street.

• Installation of heritage-themed way finding signs throughout downtown for parking, shops and points of interest.

Etter told the city council earlier this year current funding sources from the city, membership dues and fundraising are not enough to meet program objectives.

P&Z Vice-chair Sharon Greer said Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls, Davenport, Fort Dodge and other Iowa cities had adopted SSMID and had achieved positive results.

Debate was civil.

At one point, McCormack and Thompson were at the lectern, arguing for and against SSMID.

Both said regardless of the final outcome, they both would remain friends.

McCormack said CBD was working to improve downtown.

Those in opposition said they too, wanted to see an improved downtown.

SSMID and city council

The more building owners supporting SSMID, specifically, those who are willing to have the special levy placed on their property, the better to show the Marshalltown City Council, which has the authority to approve a SSMID district or decline. Councilor-at-Large Lamer told SSMID supporters at two council meetings earlier this year the council would need to see strong support from downtown property owners. Lamer said a previous effort to implement SSMID by CBD was declined by the council because it was not convinced enough property owners were willing to add an additional tax levy to their property.

Next, the city council will review Spohnheimer’s report.

At the Aug. 28 council meeting, Mayor JIm Lowrance said SSMID discussion at that meeting was the first of “many steps in the process.” The review of Spohnheimer’s report will be another step.

For more information on the CBD or SSMID, call 641-844-2001, or visit marshalltownmainstreet.org.


Contact Mike Donahey at 641-753-6611 or mdonahey@timesrepublican.com